Professor of Art History, Rutgers University Member, International Association of Art Critics, USA Section
Living and working in TriBeCa, Linda Stein found herself in a disaster zone on September 11, 2001. Residents of lower Manhattan were horrified as office workers fell from the flaming World Trade Towers. Stein was evacuated from her studio, and not able to return for several months. To this day she cannot walk past the “Ground Zero” site. I live in Manhattan, and share her grief, her outrage, and her anxiety about life in a beleaguered and threatened city. New Yorkers ride the subways, and try to remain calm when they hear police sirens. Yet they regularly experience uncertainty about their safety.
Not surprisingly, Linda Stein’s sculpture has taken a new and very dramatic direction since 9/11. Armored figures have appeared in her art—not the “knights of yore,” but female warriors as symbols of protection in an increasingly hostile environment. Like classical torsos; they are sculptural fragments in the tradition of the Venus de Milo. Such ancient figures convey strength and vitality within the body trunk itself. Stein’s figures are similarly powerful. Encrusted with materials that can be viewed as either symbolic or defensive, these sculptures have a dazzling visual effect. One figure in wood seems to hold up her arms in a protective position across her upper body. Others fuse leather and fiber with dynamism and force. Stein has incorporated many materials: copper, brass, steel wire, wood, metal pipes, and stone fragments. There is a suggestion of the rubble from fallen buildings, or debris resulting from an explosive force, that has been appropriated to arm these figures. Script, coins, hardware, and calligraphic plates are also to be found, and these elements suggest an emerging life—a strength that is salvaged from the ruins.
Larger-than-life, Stein’s figures are both vital and vulnerable. While they convey femaleness, some with breasts and curving torsos, they are monumentally postured and unyielding. Previously Linda Stein created sculptures of wood, metal and stone fused with steel machete blades, transforming violent weapons into linear rhythms and powerful imagery. Here Stein’s figures combine their nudity with the materials of urban experience. Their protective body empowers them, and assures these remarkable images a continuing relevance in our world.